A dreadlocked mule
Young SA woman bust in Thailand after her hair starts shedding 'cocaine'
On the day a South African woman was executed in China for smuggling drugs, a young Johannesburg student was arrested in Thailand for allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine hidden in her dreadlocks into the country.
Nolubabalo ''Babsie'' Nobanda, 23, was arrested on Monday when police noticed a white substance in her hair shortly after she stepped off a Qatar Airways flight that reportedly originated in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and flew through Qatar on the Gulf to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok.
The young woman from Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, lists herself on her Facebook profile as a Wits student.
On the day Nobanda was arrested, 35-year-old Janice Bronwyn Linden, of Durban, was executed by lethal injection in China after being caught trying to smuggle 3kg of tik (crystal methamphetamine) into the country.
South Africa's ambassador to Thailand, Douglas Gibson, yesterday confirmed Nobanda's arrest.
International Relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said: "Our ambassador visited her in jail yesterday [but] unfortunately we are not going to interfere with that country's laws ... that's a sovereign country, we don't interfere," said Monyela.
He warned South Africans intending to smuggle drugs abroad that they should "just abandon their plans".
"People who are even thinking of venturing [into] trafficking should be warned that other countries show no mercy," Monyela said. "In South Africa, the constitution doesn't allow the death penalty. In other countries the death penalty is there."
Though the death penalty is on the statute books in Thailand it is seldom used.
Twelve other South Africans are serving lengthy terms in Thai jails after being convicted of drugs smuggling.
Police allegedly found 1.5kg of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $150000, hidden in Nobanda's dreadlocks.
The former pupil of Victoria Girls' High School, Grahamstown, allegedly admitted to smuggling the drugs and told Thai officials that she had been hired to deliver them to a customer at a hotel in Bangkok. She was reportedly promised R16 000 on her return to South Africa.
A video posted on the website of the British Daily Mail yesterday shows authorities in Bangkok dismantling the woman's dreadlocks and removing tubes of what are said to be cocaine.
Days before she was apprehended at airport customs in Bangkok, Nobanda posted on her Facebook page that she was ready to return home from Brazil. In a status update posted five days ago, she said: ''South America, it's been awesome! But it's true what they say 'There is no place like home!'' Can't miss SA festive. So bangane [friends] i hope icooler box are good to go [sic]."
In a video released yesterday, the visibly shaken suspect is seen helping Thai officials untie her dreadlocks and pick out the "cocaine" as cameras flash.
Later, she is seen with her head in her hands as officials demonstrate how the cocaine had been concealed.
Anxious friends and relatives gathered at the family's home in Joza township, Grahamstown, yesterday.
Reporters were met by relatives and were not allowed past the front gate.
A spokesman for the family, who did not want to be named, said the family was in no position to comment: "We are in contact with the [Thai] embassy and we are trying to consolidate all the information. We need to consult a lawyer. Please understand that it is not that the family don't want to speak to the media, we just can't do so now."
A close family friend of Nobanda, who also did not want to be named, said the family was shocked by her arrest.
"We so hope that the International Relations Department can intervene and try to save her from the harsh laws of that country.
''The close-knit community of Grahamstown is really shocked by this and we are praying for her parents."
Madeleine Schoeman, a former headmistress of Victoria Girls' High, said everyone was shocked by Nobanda's arrest.
"At the time I was at that school she was a wonderful person and we don't know what forced her to make such a desperate decision. We don't know the circumstances that led to this but we are thinking of her family and parents, of what they are going through right now," said Schoeman.
Friends of Nobanda posted messages of support on her Facebook wall.
One friend wrote: "Yhu Babsie. We thinking of u! eish mchana bunganyazelekanga kodwa. Ur family is thinking of u. We hope they bring u back home."
Friends asked if the reports in the media were true and said they were praying for her safe return.
The grieving family of Janice Linden has accused the South African government of "selling her soul" to its trading partner.
Shocked relatives said they could no longer keep quiet about their "anger and disappointment" at the government yesterday.
"Our government could have saved her because our government has a good relationship with China. The government could have pleaded with the Chinese authorities because Chinese who commit crimes in South Africa are not killed so why was a South African killed in China," Linden's nephew and family spokesman, Ntando Mthalane, said.
The family was "not buying" the Department of International Relations and Cooperation's explanation that South African officials did all that they could to save Linden.
Mthalane wants the government to explain how a white South African man, who was caught with 7kg of cocaine in China, was sentenced to life imprisonment and not the death penalty.
"We know that, if Janice was not black, she would have still been alive. My aunt was allegedly found with only 3kg of methamphetamine but, from the beginning, the plan was to kill her.
"I know her. If she knew about the drugs she would have pleaded guilty to spare her life.
"However, she maintained her innocence because she was not a drug carrier. She was treated unfairly because she was black," Mthalane said.
He said his mother, Nomvuyo Mthalane, and his aunt, Nomalizwi Mhlophe, were humiliated when they arrived in China to visit their sister hours before she was executed by lethal injection at Guandong Prison. - Additional reporting by Mhlaba Memela, Rudzani Musekwa and Sapa